Nudes of the World / Take Off Your Clothes and Live Review

Throughout the sixties Arnold L. Miller and Stanley A. Long collaborated on a series of films that offered up a distinctly British take on the exploitation picture. The success of their 1960 short Nudist Memories paved the way for a decade of sexploitation, mondo documentaries, the occasional genre flick and even the directorial debut of one David Bailey. Some were very good, some were quite frankly awful and, for a long time, only the very few were easy to see. Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General has always been the most prominent, aided by the cult surrounding its director (who had died aged just 25), the presence of Vincent Price in the title role and, of course, the quality of the film itself. Similarly Reeves’ previous feature, The Sorcerers starring Boris Karloff, has never been too difficult to track down, and likewise The Blood Beast Terror. But these were all, to use the term loosely, horror movies. If we wanted to see something a little different from Miller and Long - one of those nudist romps, say, or an exposé of Soho sex clubs - then are chances were considerably slimmer.

The situation changed a few years back. In early 2009 the once banned West End Jungle emerged onto disc, quickly followed by Primitive London and London in the Raw. The latter pair were amongst the first titles to make it into the BFI’s Flipside range, which meant Blu-ray editions and plenty of contextualising materials. In other words, these films were being taken seriously, a fact cemented by a screening of West End Jungle on BBC4 around the same time. These were Miller and Long’s mondo documentaries, offering up everything from gory close-ups of hair transplants to footage captured “in actual places of vice” - salacious, certainly, but also fascinating pieces of social history. Since their release Odeon have gotten in on the act with Secrets of a Windmill Girl, a moralistic piece of fiction from 1966, which has been followed up by this particular double-bill under review. Forthcoming we have Under the Table You Must Go, a tour of London’s pubs and nightspots narrated by a talking Rolls Royce. It was the last of the pair’s collaborations and will appear on the BFI’s two-disc Roll Out the Barrel: A History of British Pubs on Film compilation in early June.

Nudes of the World and Take Off Your Clothes and Live pre-date the mondo docs and Secrets of a Windmill Girl. Made in 1962 and 1963 respectively their model is closer to the simple charms of Nudist Memories than that of Italian exploitation cinema. Both are barely an hour in length and docudrama in format. Whilst those onscreen are undoubtedly actors, it is the voice-over that is key, there to continually remind us that we are not watching these films for the boobs and the bums, but rather to educate ourselves about the naturist cause. In the case of Nudes of the World, the narrator happens to be a certain Valerie Singleton, three years prior to her becoming a Blue Peter presenter yet retrospectively adding an air of respectable authority. She is supposedly voicing one of a group of Miss World contestants (Singleton herself never appears in front of the camera) who take it upon themselves to set up the very first international nudist camp. This they do on the grounds of a stately home and to the distaste of the local community, particularly the rather bitter postmistress whose daughter is wheelchair-bound and suffering from a rare disease. Take Off Your Clothes and Live isn’t quite so complicated, opting to simply follow a group of holidaymakers as they head to a nudist resort on the Côte d’Azur. Conscious of the need to satisfy an hour-long running time, Miller and Long bulk out this ‘plot’ with travelogue interludes and a twist contest.

Neither film makes for great cinema, though that’s not to say they are without appeal. Nudes of the World, most obviously, has the sheer ridiculousness of its tale with which to entertain. We open at a beauty pageant (the banner reads ‘International Beauty Contest’ though the setting is clearly a seaside pavilion and the audience is almost entirely made up of men with prominent bald spots) where the eventual winner - Miss England, here played by a Spaniard - proves to be an unpopular choice for the other contestants. The sore point relates to her tan which the girls believe to be fake. It is only when she reveals her membership to a ‘Sun Club’ (the film’s repeated term, alongside that of ‘sun worshipper’, so as to avoid such words as ‘nudist’) that the animosity subsides and they begin to take an interest in naturist resorts. Unfortunately the popularity of such clubs means they’re unable to sample the pleasures for themselves without setting up their own. Cue the expected volleyball, sing-songs, regular endorsements of the healthiness of it all and, as a means of appeasing the censor, everyone donning thongs. As said, the local community don’t take to kindly to these “immoral creatures”, but the wholly schematic use of that wheelchair-bound young girl ensures a happy ending. It’s all nonsense, of course, but you have to admire the shamefaced manner with which Miller and Long went about it all.

Take Off Your Clothes and Live has ‘Searchlightscope’ up its sleeve - a widescreen process named after Miller and Long’s company, Searchlight Films. In other words it’s the visual element which was key to its production: naked girls framed in 2.35:1 and against a sun kissed Mediterranean backdrop. The narration - a hodgepodge of voice-overs which string the film together in the absence of any live sound - describes the scenes early on as “a wonderful holiday adventure” and repeatedly draws comparisons with Blackpool and Brighton, even St. Andrews. It’s as much an endorsement of holidaying abroad as it is the ‘sun worshipper’ way of life. Unfortunately this doesn’t prevent the multi-national cast from becoming a collection of national and/or regional stereotypes. Similarly outdated attitudes also prevail - apparently even without her clothes on a woman can’t resist a bit of shopping! Then again, all of Take Off Your Clothes is decidedly dated, so no doubt some will see the antiquated values as just another facet of the film’s quaint charms.

Such charms are severely diminished by the lack of decent materials. Given the emphasis on the visual it’s a shame to discover that, according to the opening disclaimer, that the surviving copy of Take Off Your Clothes is no better than a second generation VHS. Odeon have maintained the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and even provided anamorphic enhancement, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this doesn’t look very good. Indeed, it’s perfectly understandable why the film has remained unavailable on DVD until now. Nevertheless the soundtrack isn’t too bad and at least retains a clarity that keeps things marginally watchable (had the audio been as soft and wobbly as the picture then I doubt many would be able to make it to the end of the picture). More to the point, the presence of Nudes of the World means that we can, at least, look upon Take Off Your Clothes as a bonus feature rather the main event.

Nudes of the World’s presentation is certainly an improvement. Sourced from Stanley A. Long’s personal copy it isn’t in great shape but looks comparatively wonderful alongside Take Off Your Clothes. No video-like visuals here, rather we have celluloid that has faded somewhat over the years, picked up a few scratched and ended up losing a few frames. Once again a disclaimer pops up before the picture to both warn us and apologise for such issues whilst also stating that these are the best surviving materials. Not perfect, but watchable. The missing frames in particular can prove frustrating as they result in words and occasionally entire lines of dialogue disappearing. The framing in this instance is a 1.33:1 open matte offering which prompts at least one instance of the boom mic making itself known.

This is all a stark contrast to the stunning presentations on the BFI Blu-rays of Primitive London and London in the Raw, but I guess this is a sign that not all of British cinema’s past - especially its obscurer corners - can look quite so ravishing. (Indeed, the BFI Flipside editions of Voice Over, Her Private Hell and Nightbirds all come with their own limitations owing to surviving materials - albeit to nowhere near the extent seen here.) As such, be warned that what we are getting nowhere near perfection here, though perhaps the rarity of both Nudes of the World and Take Off Your Clothes and Live will override such concerns. It’s great that such oddities are available once again, but also unavoidably disappointing that they no longer exist in a better shape.

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